There are few series that have been cloaked in as much secrecy as “The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power.” Amazon Prime Video acquired the rights in 2017 for a massive $250 million and in the years since all of Hollywood (and “LOTR” fandom) have been curious about the creative direction for the prequel to J.R.R. Tolkien’s seminal masterwork. Those details will slowly come to light once the program finally has its moment in the sun on Sept. 2. In the meantime, the large ensemble cast and its creators are in the early days of a massive press tour which continued this morning with a virtual Television Critics Association panel.
Series co-creators J.D. Payne and Patrick McKay were joined by executive producer Lindsey Webber as well as cast members Cynthia Addai-Robinson (Queen Regent Míriel), Robert Aramayo (Elrond), Oawin Arthur (Prince Durin IV), Nazanin Bonaidi (Bronwyn), Morfydd Clark (Galadriel), Ismael Cruz Cordova (Arondir), Markella Kavenagh (Elanor ‘Nori’ Brandyfoot) and Lloyd Owen (Elendil). There were numerous questions about working with green screens and anecdotes about taking helicopters to the highest mountains in New Zealand, but, somewhat surprisingly, it was comparisons to another big fantasy show, HBO’s “House of The Dragon,” that kept rearing its uncomfortable head.
“We don’t think of the show in terms of what genre it’s in or the other shows that might be out there. We really just think about this man’s life work. Is creating this life work,” McKay says. “This is Tolkien’s Middle Earth and regions beyond Middle Earth. And the more we worked on this the more we just wanted to be true to that and drown out what might be happening in another realm somewhere else.”
Payne notes, “It’s very powerful. Fantasy has this ability to get past people’s biases, defenses, and preconceived notions of our world and it’s a world where other things are possible,. Because it hits you on this mythological level. This really primal spiritual level and I think because of that people turn to Tolkien in difficult times. His work is endlessly applicable across cultures and across times and we feel very grateful to be able to bring it to life in our time.”
“I’m glad there is so much fantasy,” Clark, who plays a warrior Elf says. “That’s great for me.”
As for what this new series will cover, well the showrunners attempted to explain as much as they could without giving any of their storylines away.
“I think it explores unexplored regions of the stories so far. It’s based on the appendices which come at the end of ‘The Lord of the Rings’ trilogy and also poems and songs and stories and half-whispers, rumors and histories that are found scattered throughout the text,” Payne says. “Tolkien is a bit of a treasure hunt, a little bit. There are some places he’ll give a little summaries, but often it’s a whispered thing someone will say or you’ll get a little nugget there and a little nugget there. Our job as storytellers has really been to excavate that and to look at how the connections between the nuggets you get…because it’s always the tip of the iceberg. Part of Tolkien’s allure is he created a world that is always bleeding out beyond the pages. He hints at something but doesn’t give you all of it. That’s what makes it so intriguing. And you always want to lean in a little more. Our job is to take you back to a time set many thousands of years before the stories you know. A thousand years before Frodo, before the Ring and Sauron. Everything before the stories everyone has seen more commonly. We are going back to a time when the rings of power were forged. We’re showing the rise of the dark lord Sauron. The story of Tolkien’s Numenor which is sort of Tolkien’s Atlantis. And so these are stories audiences have seen hinted at before and readers have been tantalized by little details of. And we tried to take the little clues that Tolkien gave us and build them out into entire storylines or characters.”
Ah, but then it came back to “Game of Thrones” once more. Aramayo played a young Ned Stark in the sixth season of “Thrones.” With the prequel coming out later this month right before “The Rings of Power” Aramayo was asked if he felt any rivalry between the two programs.
“I don’t feel a rivalry. Not from me anyway. Or any of us or any of them,” Aramayo. “I’m really excited to see the show. It’s gonna be awesome. I love that world. I love this world. I feel, personally, that the tapestry, the colors and materials are so different. It feels quite different to me. I love fantasy. Now we get to watch more fantasy. That can never be a bad thing.”
Addai-Robinson, a veteran of genre shows such as “Spartacus” and “Arrow,” chimed in adding, “We as a cast got to see the first three episodes all together which is really lovely,” says. “And one thing that really struck me is that it felt very distinct. I truly felt as we watched the show there isn’t anything else like this on right now and this doesn’t look like anything that’s come before. So I think we really get to stand on our two feet with this one. That sense of rivalry. I feel like that sense of rivalry, that’s just generated but none of feel that way. We really don’t take that view. If you’re just a fan of fantasy or just a fan of good storytelling, this is a boom time for you.”
“I think the more good TV the better it is for all of us,” Webber says. “We are really excited to see what happens and what they do. I can’t wait.”
Clark adds, “And I see other actors in Armor and think that looks heavy.”
Owen gets the last word with, “I just wonder if their armor is squeaky. Mine is squeaky.”
“The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power” debuts on Amazon Prime Video on September 2